My dayjob has kept me busy all week long, so we are celebrating Christmas today at my house. Turkey dinner, buche de noel, and maybe we’ll even get around to the presents tonight. From my house to yours, most joyous holiday greetings! For you, here’s another installment in our Derbyshire Christmas Series.
The Return of Mr. Glossop
The music room was ready for the seance; the dearly departed Mr. Glossop’s prized rhinoceros head gazed phlegmatically over the scene below. Colonel Black firmly ignored the stuffed beast and gave his cameras a final check. With any luck, they would capture Mr. Glossop’s image, and the all-too-material Mrs. Glossop would fund his society for psychic research. The cameras were primed, and gelatin plates waited below for the cameras’ reloading. Black shivered. Snow was falling again.
Miss Cook drifted in, a cloud of white muslin shod in woolly slippers to ward off the drafts. “I see they have followed my directions perfectly.” She stepped lightly into the magic circle of thirteen chairs and wafted into the club chair at the head of the table.. Black saw her check the mechanism that would lift the table into the air.
“It’s Christmas Eve. You’ll hardly be needing that with the veil so thin,” Black scolded. He’d photographed her phantasms in Liverpool, and he admired her very real abilities.
“Ghosts are peculiar things,” Miss Cook returned. “Even if they don’t appear, there still must be a show. The uninitiated turn skeptical with the slightest provocation.”
There was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Glossop’s artificially refined tones penetrated the door. “My dear, are you ready? May we come in?”
Black nodded his readiness. Miss Cook began to sway in her chair, then answered faintly, “Yes, the spirits are ready for us. Please, enter.”
The cream of Belper, Derbyshire, society came in. Dr. Darcy, the skeptic, sat next to Miss Cook, and Mr. Holmes, the almost-gullible believer, sat on her other side. Their wives sat next to them. Three young ladies and three young gentlemen, chosen for their pure spirits and youthful energies, took their places, followed by Mrs. Glossop. Colonel Black pulled the chain of the electric light, and found his own chair. He checked the shutter mechanisms that he’d placed under the carpet.
Miss Cook intoned, “Please, hold hands.”
Flickering candles glinted off mirrors and lit profiles in mysterious ways. The hairs stood up on Black’s neck. He’d never felt the power gather so fast. Tonight would be no mere show. Already, he could see a phantom head rising from the center of the table.
Mrs. Glossop gasped. “My dear! My love!” The phantom had risen chest high above the table. Black pushed the shutter to the first camera to start the exposure. Then, the ghost slowly rotated to face Mrs. Glossop and Black. He pushed the shutter for the second camera, then froze in terror.
Mr. Glossop looked like a volcano about to blow up. “Woman! What do you think you are doing, calling me back from the beyond?” One of the young ladies fainted, but the gentlemen on either side of her held tight to her hands.
“My dear, I wanted a picture to remember you by.”
“Foolish woman, there’s a reason I didn’t sit for one while I was alive. Why should I want one while I am dead?”
In spite of his fear, Black pressed the shutter of his third and final camera.
“If you people want to see ghosts so badly, you shall! I curse all you with eyes – at midnight you will see the world as it really is! From now until your dying day!”
A mighty blast of wind blew out the candles. Black bounded out of his chair, and jerked the light on. Miss Cook had also fainted, and Mr. Holmes was trying to revive her by patting her hand. Dr. Darcy had upturned the table and was inspecting it very closely. One of the young gentlemen was crying. Black quickly changed the gelatin plates in his cameras. Mrs. Glossop fumed. “Terribly stubborn old rhino. But perhaps his photograph is mine at last.”
The hall clock chimed . . . 1, 2, 3. And the light went out again! Black tugged the chain desperately, but they were out. Miss Cook came around suddenly, shouted, “Run!” and fled through the French doors into the snow-covered garden. Through the floor came two, three white ghostly heads . . . no, now a dozen, three dozen, a hundred and more. They rose and droves of ghostly paupers, men, women and children, drifted through the room, wailing and touching the bibelots in the cabinets and the ornaments of the tree. Black felt smothered in ectoplasm, and he could barely see the other living. He heard Mrs. Glossop screech in terror, then there was a thud. A voice said, “She’s fainted . . . no, she’s dead.”
The rhinoceros on the wall opened his mouth. “I told you, my dear, there was a reason why I didn’t want my photograph taken.”
Mrs. Glossop – or perhaps it was only her spirit – rose from the masses of specters and began boxing the rhinoceros’s ears. Then suddenly, on the final stroke of midnight, all disappeared and the light came on. Mrs. Glossop was indeed dead on the floor, and Dr. Darcy attended to her. The others wept and clung to each other.
Black, the villain, hastily packed his cameras, pocketed some curious ivories from the nearest cabinet, and followed Miss Cook’s footprints through the snow. No one was going to fund his society now, not in Derbyshire, anyway. Perhaps he’d try his luck in America. It’d been such rotten luck up to this point; it was bound to change.